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The Criterion: An International Journal in English

ISSN-0976-8165

Lacanian concepts Their Relevance to Literary Analysis


and Interpretation: A Post Structural Reading
Dr. Khursheed Ahmad Qazi
Assistant Professor,
Department of English
University of Kashmir
(North Campus) J &K.

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Introduction
For understanding the major Lacanian concepts such as the development of
the infant, the function of ego, the treatment of unconscious and other related
issues and their relevance to literary analysis and interpretation, it is essential
to note that his greatest contribution to literary studies is the way he
reinterpreted Sigmund Freud and reformulated Freudian theories so as to make
them compatible for literary studies. The credit of establishing Psychoanalysis
as a distinctive field of study, as is well known, ultimately goes to Freud, the
real originator of Psychoanalysis, whose study of psyche is primarily based on
the principle of causality and determinism (Homer 2005:4). M.A.R. Habib
rightly points out:
Freud opens up a number of literary critical avenues: the linking of a
creative work to an in-depth study of an authors psychology, using a
vastly altered conception of human subjectivity; the tracing in art of
primal psychological tendencies and conflicts; and the understanding
of art and literature as integrally recurring human obsessions, fear, and
anxieties (Habib 2008:89).
While accepting the tenets of nineteenth century science with its
metaphors of mechanism and impersonal forces, Freud developed a language
for his newly established science with the objective of interpreting man and
society. His reading of the unconscious shows that it is primarily the
storehouse of instinctual desires, needs, childhood wishes, unsolved conflicts,
painful experiences and emotions, fears and memories. He says that once
anything enters mental life, it never perishes. He even shows that unconscious
comes into existence when we are very young through repression, expunging
from consciousness unhappy psychological events. In fact, the concept of the
unconscious formulated by him and later modified by Lacan made it the
most vital and debatable subject matter of psychoanalysis.
Prior to Freud, the working of the mind was taken mostly as a
conscious phenomenon but Freud devised the typographical divisions of the
mind into the conscious, the unconscious and the preconscious. Later, he
named them as the id (forming the reservoir of libido or psychic energy), the
ego (representing conscious life) and the superego (functioning as the voice of
conscience and censorship). Freud stated:
That the ego represents the organized part of the psyche in contrast to
the unorganized elements of the unconscious (the id) and argues: the
ego is that part of the id that has been modified by direct influence of
the external world. The ego represents what may be called reason
and common sense, in contrast to the id, which contains the passions
(see Donald E. Hall. Subjectivity: 61)

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In this sense, the ego is related to consciousness but is also in


constant tension with the demands of the unconscious and the
imperatives of the superego. The function of the ego, therefore, is
defensive insofar as it mediates between the unconscious (the id) and
the demands of external reality (the superego). The truth of this
conceptualization, as Lacan comments in Aggressivity and
Psychoanalysis, is evident in infantile transitivity: that phenomenon
wherein one infant hit by another proclaims: I hit him!, and viceversa (Freud 1966)
Similarly, while describing his theory of the psychological
development of the infant, Freud discusses the three stages in infants
the oral, the anal, and the phallic arguing that it is the Oedipus
and Castration complex that end polymorphous perversity and create
adult beings. Against this, Lacan creates different categories to
explain a similar trajectory from infant to adult. He formulates
three newly devised concepts need, demand, and desire which
roughly correspond to the three phases of development or three fields
in which humans develop or grow: the Imaginary, the Symbolic, and
the Real.
It must be, however, pointed out that Lacan reinterpreted Freud in the
light of Structuralist and Post Structuralist theories and thus changed
psychoanalysis from an essentially humanist philosophy or theory to a Post
Structuralist one. One of the basic premises of humanism was the notion of a
stable self with free will and self-determination that Freuds notion of the
unconscious questioned and destabilized. By bringing the contents of the
unconscious into consciousness, he could minimize repression and neurosis.
Freuds goal was to strengthen the ego, the I self, the conscious or rational
identity, so it would be more powerful than the unconscious.
Main Argument
In his approach, Lacan broadened undoubtedly the scope of Unconscious
saying that the unconscious is always at work and the being of everything.
The distinctive feature of Lacanian theory, however, is its emphasis on
language and his contention that the Unconscious is structured like a
Language, an assertion that needs to be viewed in the broader perspective
according to which the unconscious comes into existence only with the
individuals access to or entry into language. In other words, a child learns its
mother tongue from its sense of how the world is and how it experiences its
biological body. The unconscious is also structured like a language in another
way: the operations of the unconscious resemble two very common processes
of language: Metaphor and Metonymy, an opposition of two figures first
discussed by linguist Roman Jakobson (Vice 1996:116). Lacan suggests that
the unconscious works in the same way that language does, along the two
axes of Metaphor and Metonymy which generate the signified. Metaphor
works by linking two concepts to each other and Metonymy works by
association or closeness rather than likeness, particularly through synecdoche,
in which a part is taken to stand for the whole. In terms of how the
unconscious works, its metaphoric structure involves moving from one
signifier to another found with it; metonymically, it slides from one to another
that is similar. According to Tyson:

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Both metaphor and metonymy involve an absence, a kind of loss or


lack: theyre both stand-ins for something being pushed aside, so to
speak (Tyson 2006:10).
Lacan bases his concept on Freuds account of the two main
mechanisms condensation and displacement which are essentially
linguistic phenomena, where meaning is either condensed (in metaphor) or
displaced (in metonymy). Metaphor, according to Lacan, is akin to the
unconscious process called condensation (both processes bring dissimilar
things together) and metonymy is akin to the unconscious process of
displacement (both processes substitute a person or object for another). He
believes that Freuds theories and concepts such as dream analysis and most of
his analysis of the unconscious symbolism depend on word play, puns,
associations which are chiefly verbal. Accordingly the contents of the
unconscious are invariably acutely aware of language, particularly of the
structure of language. While saying so, Lacan seems to have modified the
ideas and concepts of Ferdinand de Saussure who talked about the relations
between signifier and signified that form a sign. Following Saussure, Lacan
insisted that the structure of language is the negative relation among signs.
While focusing on relations between signifiers, he argues that the elements in
the unconscious wishes, desires, and images form signifier and these
signifiers form a signifying chain: one signifier has meaning only because it is
not some other signifier. Like other Post-structural theoreticians, he stated that
there are no signifieds; there is nothing that a signifier ultimately refers to. If
there were, then the meaning of any particular signifier would be relatively
stable: there would be, in Saussures terms, a relation of signification between
signifier and signified, and that relation would create or guarantee some kind
of meaning. Lacan believes that the relations of signification dont exist rather;
there are only the negative relations, relations of value, where one signifies
what it is because it is not something else. Because of this lack of signifieds,
he says, the chain of signifiers (See, Lacans Seminar XI ) is constantly sliding
and shifting and circulating. There is no anchor, nothing that ultimately gives
meaning or stability to the whole system.
The reader is often reminded of Jacques Derrida according to whom
meaning is only the mental trace left behind by the play of signifiers, and that
trace consists of the differences by which we define a word. Hence, meaning
resides in words (or in things) only when we distinguish their difference from
other words (or things). It is clear that Derrida believes in Language having
two important features: one, its play of signifiers continually defers,
postpones, meaning and the other the meaning it seems to have is the result of
the differences by which we distinguish one signifier from another (Tyson,
Lois 2006: 253). Michel Foucault says that no discourse by itself can
adequately explain the complex dynamics of social power because there is a
dynamic, unstable, interplay among discourses as they are invariably in flux,
overlapping and competing with one another every moment.
It is also important to note that Freuds psychoanalysis focuses on the
author and or the characters in the literary work, Lacan following the
structuralist and post-structuralist approaches focuses on the language of the
text. In his Ecrits, Lacan, while reinterpreting Freud in the light of structuralist
and post structuralist theories of discourse, challenges some of the traditional
and orthodox interpretation of his main tenets and doctrines. Orthodox

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Freudian doctrine views the unconscious as chaotic, primordial, instinctual,


and pre-verbal while as Lacan believes that the Unconscious is like a
continually circulating chain or multiple chains of signifiers, with no anchor,
or to use Derridas terms, no centre. He argues that the process of becoming
self is the process of trying to fix, to stabilize, and to stop the chain of
signifiers so that the stable meaning including the meaning of
I __ becomes possible. According to Lacan the signifying chain has a life of
its own which cannot be securely anchored to a world of things because there
is a perpetual sliding and slipperiness of the signified under the signifier.
Accordingly, he argues, meaning is sustained by anything other than reference
to another meaning.
Lacan even effectively reformulates in linguistic terms Freuds account
of the Oedipus complex. Freud had posited that the infants desire for its
mother is prohibited by the father who threatens the infant with castration.
Faced with this threat, the infant represses his desire, thereby opening up the
dimension of the unconscious, which is for Lacan not a place but a relation
to the social world of law, morality religion and conscience. According to
Freud, the child internalizes through the fathers commands the appropriate
standards of socially acceptable thought and behaviour.
Like Freud, Lacans infant initiates as something inseparable from its
mother: that is, the child, having no sense of self or individuated identity,
is not conscious of its body as a coherent unified whole and can hardly
differentiate between self and other, between itself and mother. In other words,
the most crucial factor for the baby is feeding which mother gratifies and it
feels as though it and she are only one entity or individual. At this stage,
therefore, the baby is driven by Need it needs food, comfort, safety, to be
changed, etc. All these needs are satisfiable by an object because it gets a
breast or a bottle when it feels hunger and gets hugged when it needs safety.
After passing through the phase of needs, the child normally switches
over to the phase of demands where it has to separate itself from its mother in
order to form its own identity: a pre-requisite for entry into civilization and
culture. In other words, when the child feels the discrepancy between its inner
needs and the outer satisfaction of those needs, it learns that our own world is
not the whole world. It finds that it is not autonomous but there is an outside
something, an Other who feeds it or more generally, on whom it is
dependent.
Keeping these things in view, it becomes obvious that the demands of
the baby are not satisfiable with objects because a demand is always a demand
for recognition or love from another. This awareness of separation, or the fact
of otherness, creates an anxiety, a sense of loss. The baby then demands a
reunion, a return to that original sense of fullness and non- separation that it
had earlier. However, all this seems to be impossible because once the baby
knows and its knowledge shifts from an unconscious level to a higher
awareness level it comes to realize that the idea of an Other exists. Hence,
demand is the demand for the fullness and the completeness which is
impossible, because that lack, or absence, the sense of otherness, is the
condition for the baby to become or emerge as an independent self or subject.
This is where Lacans Mirror Stage exists.
Lacans dsir follows Freuds concept of Wunsch and it is central to
Lacanian theories because the aim of the talking cure psychoanalysis is

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precisely to lead the analysand to uncover the truth about their desire, though
this is only possible if that desire is articulated or spoken. Lacan says that
desire is named in the presence of the other. He believes that the subject
should come to recognize and to name his/her desire because that is the
efficacious action of analysis. But it is not a question of recognizing
something which would be entirely given. In naming it, the subject creates,
brings forth, a new presence in the world. Therefore, what is important is to
teach the subject to name, to articulate, to bring desire into existence.
Although the truth about desire is somehow present in discourse,
discourse can never articulate the whole truth about desire: whenever
discourse attempts to articulate desire, there is always a leftover, a surplus. On
the basis of this fundamental understanding, Lacan maintained throughout his
career that desire is the desire of the Other.
Lacanian theory, as analysed above, does not deny that infants are
always born into the world with basic biological needs that require constant or
periodic satisfaction. Lacans stress, however, is that, from a very early age,
the childs attempts to satisfy these needs become caught up in the dialectics
of its exchanges with others. Because its sense of self is only ever garnered
from identifying with the images of these others, Lacan argues that it
demonstrably belongs to humans to desire- directly- as or through another or
others.
The Mirror Stage
It remains one of the most frequently anthologized and referenced of Lacans
texts and is concerned with the formation of the ego through the
identification with an image of the self. It describes the formation of the Ego
via the process of objectification: the Ego being the result of feeling dissention
between ones perceived visual appearance and ones perceived emotional
reality. The moment of identification is to Lacan a moment of jubilation since
it leads to an imaginary sense of mastery, yet the jubilation may also be
accompanied by a depressive reaction, when the infant compares his own
precarious sense of mastery with the omnipotence of the mother. This
identification also involves the ideal ego which functions as a promise of
future wholeness sustaining the Ego in anticipation. For Lacan, this
jubilation is a testimony to how, in the recognition of its mirror- image, the
child is having its first anticipation of itself as a unified and separate
individual. Before this time, Lacan contends, the child is little more than a
body in bits and pieces, unable to clearly separate I and Other, and
wholly dependant for its survival upon its first nurturers. The implications of
this observation on the mirror stage, in Lacans reckoning, are far-reaching.
It is an established fact that an individuals attempt to speak and think
in the second or third person is a permanent possibility of adult human
experience. What is decisive in these phenomena, according to Lacan, is that
the ego is at base an object: an artificial projection of subjective unity
modelled on the visual images of objects and others that the individual
confronts in the world. Identification with the ego, Lacan maintains, is what
underlies the unavoidable component of aggressivity in human behaviour
especially evident amongst infants, and which Freud recognized in his Three
Essays on Sexuality when he stressed the primordial ambivalence of children
towards their love objects.

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In complete opposition to any Jungian or romantic conceptions, Lacan


described the unconscious as a kind of discourse: the discourse of the Other.
Presenting the three interrelated concerns the childs castration as a
decisive point in its becoming a speaking subject; the interpretive paradigm
in Freuds texts; and the efficacy of psychoanalytic interpretation as the
magical power of the word Lacan allocated language a great importance
in psychoanalytical criticism. According to him, it is only after the child
accedes to castration and the Law-of-the-father that it becomes fully
competent as a language-speaker within its given social collective order.
From the above assertions, we can deduce the conclusion that, like the
later Wittgenstein, Lacans position is that to learn a language is to learn a set
of rules or laws for the use and combination of words. This is virtually a
phenomenological concept of Edmund Husserl and Martin Heidegger,
according to which human consciousness is not the passive recognition that
brings the child great pleasure: a subject is to experience the world as a
meaningful totality and language is crucial to this capability.
Lacans innovation in The Mirror Stage was to combine the
phenomenological distinction between subject and ego with a psychological
understanding of the role of images and the constructed nature of the self
through the philosophical category of the dialectic. Dialectical thought, as
conceived by Hegel, foregrounds the contradictory nature of all things, as all
phenomena can be said to contain their opposite; their own notion. Out of this
relationship or unity of opposites something new will emerge in an endless
process of transformation. It was Hegels great insight, contends Lacan, to
reveal how each human being is in the being of the other (Miller 1988:72).
The mirror image is also known in psychoanalytic terminology as an
ideal ego, a perfect whole self that has no insufficiency. Once this ideal
ego becomes internalized, we build our sense of self, our Identity, by
misidentifying ourselves with this ideal ego. By doing this, we imagine a self
that has no lack, no notion of absence or incompleteness. The fiction of the
stable, whole, unified self that we see in the mirror becomes a compensation
for having lost the original oneness with the mothers body.
In short, according to Lacan, we lose our unity with the mothers body
once we enter into culture because the childs self-concept, its ego or
Identity will never match up to its own being. The childs image in the
mirror is both smaller and more stable than the child, and is always other.
The child, for the rest of its life, will misrecognize its self as Other, as the
image in the mirror that provides an illusion of self and of master. The mirror
stage cements a self or other dichotomy, where the child projects its ideas of
self or Other dichotomy, where previously the child had known only Other,
but not self. For Lacan, the identification of self is always in terms of
Other.
Lacan uses the term Other in a number of ways, which make it even
harder to grasp. First, and perhaps the easiest, is in the sense where other is
the not-me, but becomes me in the mirror stage. Lacan also uses an idea
of Other, with a capital O, to distinguish between the concept of the other
and actual others. The image the child sees in the mirror is an Other, and it
gives the child the idea of other as a structural possibility, one which makes
possible the structural possibility of I or self. In other words, the child
encounters actual others: its own image, other people and understand the idea

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of Otherness, things that are not itself. Lacan refers to this loss of object of
desire as objet petit a, or object small a with the letter a standing for autre, the
French word for other. The little other is the other who is not really other, but
a reflection and projection of the Ego. He is both the counterpart or the other
people in whom the subject perceives a visual likeness (semblable), and the
specular image or the reflection of ones body in the mirror. In this way the
little other is entirely inscribed in The Imaginary order. The big Other
designates a radical alterity, an otherness transcending the illusory otherness
of the Imaginary because it cannot be assimilated through identification.
Lacan equates this radical alterity with language and the law: the big Other is
inscribed in The Symbolic order, being Symbolic insofar as it is particularized
for each subject. We can speak of the Other as a subject in a secondary sense,
only when a subject may occupy this position and thereby embody the Other
for another subject. When he argues that speech originates not in the Ego nor
in the subject, but in the Other, Lacan stresses that speech and language are
beyond ones conscious control; they come from another place, outside
consciousness, and then the unconscious is the discourse of the Other. When
conceiving the Other as a place, Lacan refers to Freuds concept of physical
locality, in which the unconscious is described as the other scene. It is the
mother who first occupies the position of the big Other for the child, it is she
who receives the childs primitive cries and retroactively sanctions them as a
particular message.
A study of the Lacanian mirror stage reveals that this stage marks the
childs first recognition or understanding of lack or absence and its search for
the moment of the distinction between self and other. It also provides the
grounds for the ego ideal, the image of the ego, derived from others, which the
ego strives to achieve or live up to. Besides, the mirror stage initiates the child
into the two-person structure of imaginary identifications, orienting it forever
towards identification with dependence on images and representations for its
own forms or outline. As Lacan rewrites this process, the child passes through
the three orders or states of human mental disposition: the imaginary order, the
symbolic order, and the real (Habib 2008:91).
The Imaginary Order
The imaginary order is a pre-oedipal phase where an infant is yet to
distinguish itself from its mothers body or to recognize the lines of
demarcation between itself and the objects in the world; indeed, it does not yet
know itself as a coherent entity or self. Hence, as elaborated by Habib:
The imaginary phase is one of unity (between the child and its), as
well as of immediate possession (of mother and objects), a condition of
reassuring of plenitude, a world consisting wholly of images (hence
imaginary) that is not fragmented or mediated by difference, by
categories, in a word, by language and signs(Habib 2008:91).
During this period, the child acquires language, and experiences a
change that, for Lacan, is of paramount importance because the childs
acquisition of language means a number of important things, including its
initiation into the symbolic order; for language is first and foremost a symbolic
system of signification. Our entrance into the symbolic order involves the
experience of separation from others, and the biggest separation is the
separation from the intimate union we experienced with our mother during our

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immersions in the imaginary order. For Lacan, this separation constitutes our
most important experience of loss, and it is one that will haunt us all our lives.
A study of the Lacanian concept of the Imaginary indicates that this
stage is equated to the childs first entry into the social life where it gradually
understands its difference from mother which turns out to be the base of its
own individual identity, an identity which is fundamentally alienated. The
symbolic, marked by the concept of desire, represents adulthood or the
structure of language or the discourse of law that we have to enter into in order
to become speaking subject or normal subjects of the society.
Language is empty because it is an endless process of difference and
absence: instead of being able to possess anything in its fullness, the child
simply moves from one to another, along a linguistic chain which is
potentially infinite. One signifier implies another and that another, and so on
ad infinitum: the metaphorical world of the mirror has yielded ground to the
metonymic chain of signifiers, meanings, or signifieds which will be
produced; but no object or person can ever be fully present in this chain.
This endless movement from one signifier to another is what Lacan means by
desire. All desire springs from lack, which it strives continually to fill. Human
language works by such lack: the absence of the real objects designated by
signs point to the fact that words have meaning only by virtue of the absence
and exclusion of others. To enter language, then, is to become a prey to desire:
language, Lacan remarks, is what hollows being into desire.
The Symbolic
Tyson very rightly points out that in entering the Symbolic Order
the world of language were entering a world of loss and lack(Tyson
2006:30). It is not therefore surprising then, that according to Lacan the
Symbolic Order marks the replacement of the mother with the Name-of-the
Father. For it is through language that we are socially programmed, that we
learn the rules and prohibitions of our society, and those rules and prohibitions
were and still are authored by the Father, that is, by men in authority past and
present(Tyson 2006:31).
Tyson adds further:
Our desires, beliefs, biases, and so forth are constructed for us as a
result of our immersion in the Symbolic Order, especially as that
immersion is carried out by our parents and influenced by their own
responses to the Symbolic Order. This is what Lacan means by his
claim that desire is always the desire of the other (See, Seminar Bk.
XI: 235).
However, we desire what we are taught to desire. In other words, the
Symbolic Order consists of societys ideologies: its beliefs, values, and biases;
its system of government, laws, educational practices, religious tenets, and the
like. And it is our responses to our societys ideologies that make us what /
who we are. That is what Lacan means when he capitalizes the word Other
while discussing the symbolic order. Other refers to anything that contributes
to the creation of our subjectivity, or what we commonly refer to as our
selfhood. The Symbolic Order dominates human culture and social order,
for to remain solely in the Imaginary Order is to render one incapable of
functioning in the society.
The symbolic order, or the world known through language, ushers in
the world of lack. Hence, the Symbolic order, as a result of the experience of

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lack, marks the split into conscious and unconscious mind. It is repression that
first creates the unconscious. Indeed, Lacans famous statement that the
unconscious is structured like a language(Miller 1992: 12) implies among
other things, the way in which unconscious desire is always seeking our lost
object of desire, the fantasy mother of our preverbal experience, just as
language is always seeking ways to put into words the world of objects we
inhabit as adults that didnt need words when we felt as preverbal infants, one
with them(Tyson 2006:30). It is only in the absence of a desired object that
language becomes necessary, and through the use of language that a self
comes into existence. The form of that existence is both desiring and
linguistic.
The Symbolic and the Imaginary are overlapping, as there is no clear
marker or division between the two. In fact, in some respects they always
coexist because the Symbolic order is the structure of language itself and we
have to enter into it in order to emerge as speaking subjects, and to designate
ourselves by I. The foundation for having a self lies in the Imaginary
projection of the self onto the specular image; the other in the mirror and
having a self is expressed in saying I, which can only occur within the
Symbolic. The Imaginary is structured by the Symbolic order: in The Four
Fundamental Concepts of Psychoanalysis, Lacan argues how the visual field
is structured by symbolic laws. Thus, the Imaginary involves a linguistic
dimension. If the signifier is the foundation of the Symbolic, the signified and
signification are part of the Imaginary order. Language has Symbolic and
Imaginary connotations; in its Imaginary aspect, language is itself the wall of
language which inverts and distorts the discourse of the Other. On the other
hand, the Imaginary is rooted in the subjects relationship with its own body
(the image of the body). In Fetishism: the Symbolic, the Imaginary and the
Real, Lacan argues that in the sexual plane the Imaginary appears as sexual
display and courtship love. He accuses major psychoanalytic schools of
reducing the practice of psychoanalysis to the Imaginary order by making
identification with the analyst the objective of analysis. He proposes the use of
the Symbolic as the way to dislodge the disabling fixations of the Imaginary:
the analyst transforms the images into words.
In his Seminar IV, La relation dobjet, Lacan asserts that the
concepts of Law and Structure are unthinkable without language: thus the
Symbolic is a linguistic dimension. Yet, he does not simply equate this order
with language since language involves the Imaginary and the Real as well.
The dimension proper of language in the Symbolic is that of the signifier, that
is a dimension in which elements have no positive existence but which are
constituted by virtue of their mutual differences.The Symbolic is also the field
of radical alterity, that is the Other: the unconscious is the discourse of this
Other. Besides, it is the realm of the Law which regulates desire in the
Oedipus complex.
Lacan even questions Saussures assumption (Lodge with Wood 2007)
that there is nothing problematic about the bond between the signified and the
signifier in the verbal sign by pointing out that the two signifiers, Ladies and
Gentlemen may refer to the same signified (a WC), or be interpreted in a
certain context as apparently contradictory place names. In short, language,
the signifying chain, has a life of its own which cannot be securely anchored
to a world of things. There is a perpetual sliding of the signified under the

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signifier. No meaning is sustained by anything other than reference to another


meaning. Such dicta were to have major repercussions on the theory and
practice of interpretation.
The Real Order
Lacan traces the origin of the Real in Aristotles Tuche which means
search for cause. According to Lacan the real is a state in which an
individual is free from all desires and demands as he /she is hardly affected by
the worldly attractions. In other words, this phase is a liberalized state which
cant be confined to any linguistic domain, as it is pre-linguistic. It is a place
beyond language, and hence unrepresentable in language. The Real entiated
elements, signifiers, the Real in itself is undifferentiated, it bears no fissure.
The Symbolic introduces a cut in the real, in the process of signification: it
is the world of words that creates the world of things things originally
confused in the here and now of the all in the process of coming into being.
Thus, the Real is that which is outside language, resisting
symbolization absolutely. In Seminar XI, Lacan defines the Real as the
impossible because it is impossible to imagine and impossible to integrate
into the Symbolic, being impossibly attainable. It is this resistance to
symbolization that lends the Real its traumatic quality.
The Lacanian concept of the Real is certainly a difficult concept and
as such beyond the comprehension of meaning of an average reader because it
lies almost outside the world created by ideologies, which our societies
generally use in order to explain existence. According to Tyson:
One way to think of the Real is as that which is beyond all meaning
making systems that which lie outside the world created by the
ideologies society uses to explain existence (Tyson 2006:32).
It is the uninterpretable dimension of existence; an existence without
the filters and buffers of our signifying or meaning-making systems. It is the
experience of an individual, may be even only for a moment, to feel that there
is no purpose or meaning in life; and religions as well as other rules that
govern society are hoaxes or mistakes or the mere results of chance.
In other words, it is a realization that ideology is not a set of timeless
values or eternal truths but only a curtain that is embroidered and makes
everything bleak. The existence behind the curtain is the Real, but it is
beyond the competence of every individual to see or experience the truth of
reality which Lacan calls the trauma of the Real. According to him, it gives us
only the realization that the reality, hidden beneath the ideologies society has
created, is beyond our capacity to control:
The trauma of the Real gives us only the realization that the
reality hidden beneath the ideologies society has created is a reality
beyond our capacity to know and explain and therefore certainly
beyond our capacity to control (Tyson 2006:32).
For Lacan, the real is impossible: that which occurs beyond the entire
framework of signification. The real is a sign of its own absence, pointing to
itself as merely signifier. Not only opposed to the Imaginary, the Real is also
located outside the Symbolic. Unlike the latter which is constituted in terms of
oppositions, i.e. presence/absence, there is no absence in the Real. Whereas
the Symbolic opposition presence/absence implies the possibility that
something may be missing from the Symbolic, the Real is always in its
place.

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The Lacanian concept of the Mirror Phase, the Imaginary, the


Symbolic, and the Real imply that an individuals sense of individuation can
in no way develop merely due to ones inner wealth or innate potential. The
mirror phase marks the point at which this comforting imaginary condition
breaks down, pushing the child into the symbolic order, which is the world of
predefined social roles and gender differences, the world of subjects and
objects, the world of language. This is why Lacan calls it the phase of demand
and the mirror stage or the realm of the Imaginary. For Lacan, it is a condition
in which: we lack any defined centre of identity. Lacan believes that ego or
self or identity is always on some level a Fantasy, identification with an
external image, and not an internal sense of separate whole identity. In fact,
the image the child sees in the mirror is in this sense an alienated one: the
child misrecognizes itself in it and finds in the image a pleasing unity which
does not actually experience in its own body. Hence, the imaginary for Lacan,
is precisely this realm of images in which we make identifications but in the
very act of doing so we are led to misperceive and misrecognise ourselves. As
the child grows up, it continues to make such imaginary identifications with
objects, and this is how its ego is built up.
For Lacan, the ego is just the narcissistic process whereby we bolster
up a fictive sense of unitary selfhood by finding something in the world with
which we can identify self. Lacans theory teaches that our ability to gain
definite access to the essence of things is possible only through language.
Being humans, we are trapped within the universe of discourse, and it is
impossible to conceive or articulate or express whatever is outside without
articulating it within the discursive field in one of its forms like desire. It is
now evident that meaning is constantly shifting despite the fact that language
always carries meaning; it is incapable of fixating it. As human beings, it is
always our desire to articulate our demands in a well-formed language but our
desires never get materialized because of the slippery nature of language
which makes us persistently conscious of our lack or failure to
communicate. We continuously search for this lost-impossible real but the
search ends in failure because our attempts prove meaningless, futile for
neutralizing this lack. In this way, Lacanian theory is but another version of
social constructionism.
According to Lois Tyson (Tyson 2006:33) the most reliable way to
interpret a literary work through a Lacanian lens is to explore the ways in
which the text might be structured by some of the Lacanian concepts and see
what this exploration can reveal. Such an exploration shall focus on the
following: (i.)Do any characters, events, or episodes in the narrative seem to
embody the Imaginary Order, in which case they would involve some kind of
private and either fantasy or delusional world? (ii.)What parts of the text seem
formed by the Symbolic Order? That is, where do we see ideology and social
norms in control of characters behaviour and narrative events? & (iii.) Does
any part of the text seem to operate as a representative of the Real, of that
dimension of existence that remains so terrifyingly beyond our ability to
comprehend it that our impulse is to flee it, to repress and deny it?
Taking a clue from Lois Tyson, one can think of analyzing & interpreting
the major literary artifacts from Lacanian Perspective in order to search for
newer meanings or explore modern dimensions which have so far otherwise
remained unexplored or untouched in the literary artifacts.

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Works Cited:
Freud, A. 1966.The Ego and The Mechanisms of Defence, The Writing of
Anna Freud, Vol. 2, New York: International Universities Press.
Habib, M. A . R. 2008. Modern Literary Criticism and Theory: A History,
USA: Blackwell Publishing.
Hall, Donald E. Subjectivity (the New Critical Idiom), London: Routledge.
Homer, Sean.2005. Jacques Lacan (Critical Idiom Series), London:
Routledge.
Jacques, Lacan. The Insistence of the Letter in the Unconsciousness, in
David Lodge, David with Wood, Nigel. 2007. (ed) Modern Criticism and
Theory: A Reader. New Delhi: Dorling Kindersley (India) Pvt. Ltd.
Lacan, Jacques. The Seminar of Jacques Lacan, Book II, The Ego in Freud'
and in the Technique of Psychoanalysis 1954-1955, ed. J.A. Miller, trans. S.
Tomaselli, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Tyson, Lois.2006. Critical Theory Today: A User-Friendly Guide, London:
Routledge.
Vice, Sue (ed).1996. Psychoanalytical Criticism: A Reader. United Kingdom:
Polity Press.

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